Reflections Wlvn-11 part 3 of 3

The group left early in the morning. The poor villagers, still in a state of shock, began to grieve for the dead. Sadly, Flern could not do anything for them, and she feared the night creatures would show up and finish the job if they did not leave. They had a pass into the mountains to navigate.

Thred did not like the climb, and they often walked the horses as they climbed. There seemed little else they could do beyond struggling up the rough path at a gentle but steady pace. Wlkn looked back now and then, afraid of what might be coming next, but the others kept their eyes focused ahead and did not really have the strength to spare.

The clouds thickened all that day, so they were forced to spend a night among the rocks. Though they had food and managed a fire, it became a cold and miserable night all the same. Flern shivered by sunrise, and when she heard the baby wail in the distance, she shivered all the more.

The second day became a repeat of the first, only this time the legs and backs already ached. By lunch, it finally began to snow, and it came down in blizzard proportions for hours. Even Elleya got cold in the chill wind that seemed to sweep right up the mountainside with an unnatural strength. Boritz, who had been exceptionally quiet since the ghouls, gave her his shirt, and it helped. It covered her to well below the knees, almost like a dress. Andrea looked up at the big man and he looked down at her, sheepishly. Then she stood on her toes, and he still had to lean down a bit, and they kissed, and enough so the others had to look away to be polite.

“That is just for warmth,” Andrea said as she took hold of her horse’s reigns and started to walk again. Boritz said nothing, but he did appear to grin rather broadly, and continued to grin for some time after.

They reached the top of the pass just as the afternoon came to a close and the snow finally tapered off. Wlkn looked back and Elleya looked with him. Andrea and Boritz were trying hard not to look at each other. Moriah and Badl were looking at each other and congratulating each other on making the climb; though to be sure, they were far less tired than the others, apart from Laurel, who still appeared as fresh as a spring flower. Flern felt exhausted from the two-day climb, and all of the stress. She admitted that stress had a lot to do with her condition. She presently felt worn very thin. No wonder she reacted the way she did when the giants approached them—just ordinary ten- or twelve-foot giants, not Titans.

“We have no argument with you, grandson of Perun.” The blond leader of the group recognized Boritz and made a point of asking him to stay out of it. Boritz stood an impossibly big man in that day and age, but he stood several feet shorter than the smallest of the giants. Nevertheless, the giants clearly respected the man, or at least they respected the blood that ran in Boritz’s veins. “We just want the red headed girl. The rest of you can go in peace.” Loki had apparently figured out the switch.

“And do what with her?” Badl asked. Flern presently had her head in her hands. She started working on a whopper headache.

“We have no quarrel with the dwarfs or elves. You are safe here.” The chief said, and that was all he was going to say, but one of the giants in the back spoke up, though he probably should have held his tongue.

“The god said we could roast her, and when we were done, we should throw her remains off the cliff. Then he will bless us with all sorts of good things.” A young giant, he clearly looked forward to the good things, whatever they might be.

Flern snapped. She floated up off of Thred’s back and found the power to fly up to the lead giant’s face where he stood, one giant step out from the crowd. She wagged her finger sternly in that face and yelled. “My village got overrun with the enemy and my family may already be dead for all I know. I escaped to get help, but all I get is one stupid headache after another.” The giant took a step back in the face of her fury, but she followed him. “I was almost raped, and I had to kill him, and I resent whoever manipulated that poor slow mind in the first place. Then I got in a battle and plenty of good people got killed. Then I got tricked into looking into a mirror and I got sucked into this time period and I might never be able to get home. Now, I have lost all of my friends back home as well as my family.” Flern started to glow as her anger began to seep out of her pores, and the giant took another step back.

“But I got stuck here, only to get into another battle, and this time it was not with men, but with ghouls. Now, I am dirty, beat up, and worn to my last thread. I don’t have time to play with a bunch of stupid little giants, so you better hear this. Loki does not own me. I do not belong to the gods and do not bow to them because I have been counted as one of them for hundreds of years. Loki can promise you whatever he wants, but he cannot give me to you, and I will tell you right now you don’t have the guts to take me. You get the same warning I gave the ghouls, leave now and I will let you live. The ghouls did not listen and now they are all dead and here we are, safe and sound. So, leave now before I get really mad.” The giant took one more step back and ended in the midst of his group.

Laurel, Moriah and Elleya had their mouths open. Badl and Wlkn cowered, never having imagined that this sweet little red-headed girl could vent like this. Boritz stood calmly, cradled his big club in his arms like a baby, and Andrea reached up to take the big man’s arm and stand close to him. The corners of Andrea’s lips turned up ever so slightly, and she nodded, but otherwise she looked cool and calm in the face of the storm.

Flern began to weep, even as the chief giant yelled back. “Get her.” No giants moved to obey that command as the earth began to shake and rumble. A genuine earthquake. A sudden great gust of wind blew Flern back to her friends where she fell on to a pile of soft snow and let out her tears. She utterly ignored the rumbling beneath her. No one else ignored it. They all screamed and shouted at each other to hold on. The giants all fell to the earth except one who managed to spread his legs, lean over and place his hands on the ground. He looked like a jackass ready to kick, but he did not utterly collapse. Then rocks began to shoot up like spikes reaching for the heavens. They came up between the two parties and became like a wall so neither side could get at the other. When the wall became complete, the shaking stopped, and Badl, Andrea and Wlkn had a terrible time rounding up the horses.

A woman appeared beside the wall, but on Flern’s side of the wall. She stood too tall, perhaps a foot taller than the tallest giant, and while she wore a long dress that looked and moved like silk in the wind, she appeared to have gray skin and white, marble eyes that were nevertheless alert and aware.

“Who are you?” Flern looked up and feared that this might be yet another one of Loki’s surrogates.

“I am Carpasis, the oread of the mountain, and this is my pass. Greovic and his friends shall not determine who may pass and who may not.”

Flern let out a laugh, a small slightly hysterical laugh, while the Storyteller echoed instructions into her mind. “My name is Flern. I seek the Golden Hind, and my favorite color is red.”

The oread stopped moving. “The red suits you,” she said. “But I know who you are and what you seek. The goddess came this way only a day ago. She has gone on to visit my sister, Sylvan in the place where the river runs out of the plateau and down the far side on its journey to the Great River. You must cross the plateau, not go around as you have been thinking, and you must look for my sister when you arrive, before you descend into the Great River Valley.”

Flern took that as permission given and she immediately whistled for Thred who came bounding up like a faithful puppy dog. The others tried to get up on their horses. Only Andrea had a bit of a problem calming her horse enough to take Boritz once again. “Thank you.” Flern looked at the oread who looked startled for just a second.

“You’re welcome,” Carpasis responded, and then added one thought. “If my earth shake sent some of my children of stone into the valley below, and if one boulder happened to crush a night creature, it cannot be helped. There are still four behind you, though I cannot imagine they will bother you tonight.

“Thank you again.” Flern repeated and she started forward before anything else changed. Laurel caught up to ride beside her.

“The Great Lady of Love is most thoughtful to provide a way for us.” Laurel said, having guessed who Carpasis meant with the word, goddess.

“Yes, and I thank her every day.” Flern admitted.

Laurel paused before she spoke again. “So, we are going across the plateau of the Were after all.”

“Yes. Faya help us.”

Laurel said no more, she just clicked her tongue.

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MONDAY

The quest needs to cross the plateau of the Were, that is, werewolves, not to mention lions, tigers, and bears… Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.

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Reflections Wlvn-11 part 2 of 3

Moriah came up beside Laurel. “We did it,” Moriah announced. She looked covered in blood and held a hunter’s knife in her hand that still dripped purplish puss from the blade. Flern turned her head and went away from that place. Nameless came to fill her shoes. Laurel looked to the ground on recognizing the god. Moriah gasped, but Nameless smiled for her before he walked the village square and made certain that all of the ghouls in the village were dead.

Twenty ghouls had died, and none of them were merely wounded. They melted and left a purple-greenish puddle of puss on the ground. The village defenders had already made certain of that. Nameless sensed a half-dozen ghouls running for their lives, headed back to their home in the north, and he knew they would not come that way again, so he let them go. “Take the wounded to the house of the village chief,” Nameless ordered. “Carefully.” He underlined the word. “I will be along shortly to help.” He looked at his feet. The body of the village chief lay there beside the body of the chief dwarf. “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid,” he said softly, as he knelt down to close the poor dwarf’s eyes. Then he called, and everyone stopped for a moment to hear as the sound vibrated in their souls before it left that place and scattered to the wind. It crossed over the mountains, even to the Great River, and sped north through the limitless forests, to the North Sea and beyond to the great peninsulas that hung down over the world like fingers from the ice cap. The call pushed across the east and south to the shores of the Black Sea, over the waves of the Crimea and to the wilderness beyond. And it went north, even to the Ural Mountains where more than one man lifted his head from the hunt to listen and wonder. There was one. She heard. She appeared in a flash of light and dropped to one knee without even looking up.

“Hilde.” Nameless knew her name and said it tenderly. Then the angelic-like form looked and saw the smile on his face and became very curious. “Hilde. First sister of many, I have a task for you which you alone can do.”

“I will, my Lord. But how is it that I know you and do not know you? How is it that I love you so dearly though I love no man? And how may I be the first of sisters when I have no sisters?”

“These mysteries will resolve in time. Be patient, only for now you have work to do.” Nameless pointed to the chief at his feet.

“The dwarf is gone beyond my reaching,” Hilde said. “It is so with all of the people of the spirit, from the littlest up to the gods themselves, yet this man is within my grasp should I choose him.”

Nameless nodded. “The valiant should not suffer in the pit with the wicked. I charge you, Hilde, and all of the sisters that follow after you to take the spirits of the valiant to the house and halls of Odin so that the Alfader may decide where to keep such men for eternity.”

“And the women?”

“Take them to my mother, to the House of Vrya and let her care for them as she will.”

“I will do this thing,” Hilde said as she stood. “It feels right, like I have been sleeping all of my days and have been waiting for this moment to come awake.” She returned Nameless’ smile at last, vanished from that place, and took the souls of the dead with her.

“Who was that?” Laurel still stood by his side, though Moriah had gone in search of Badl.

“The first Valkyr,” Nameless told her, and then he made her wait there a minute while he took two steps forward. Skinny Wilken ended up among the wounded and needed Doctor Mishka, but he had one more thing to do first.

Nameless reached out with his thoughts. “Loki. Play your games, do your tricks, make you mischief through your surrogates as you will. That is your business, not mine. I only want to remind you of the penalty for killing a god.”

After a pause, there came a response, one that felt cold in the mind. “I am in no danger, foolish boy. I would say it is that little girl of yours that is at risk if she should come up against the Titan.”

“Yes, but I kill more than one over the next several thousand years, so it is too late for me.” Nameless thought the words with a little coldness of his own. “But you should remember that the little girl is the Kairos, and the Kairos is counted among the gods.”

Another pause, but Nameless knew that Loki was still there. “But no one knows exactly what that means,” the response came.

“Even so, a little friendly advice. The Kairos will be coming for your big friend, and I would not recommend getting in the way.”

“That girl has a long way to go yet.” Loki responded more quickly that time.

“Just so we understand each other,” Nameless thought, and he cut the connection. He watched the escaping ghouls for a minute before something else caught his attention. Badl talked with the remaining dwarfs who were now leaderless. He took Laurel by the arm and walked to the meeting.

“Your mother was the daughter of a chief, and your father, though not strictly a dwarf, he was beloved by the goddess, and we need no better recognition than that. You could come with us and be our chief.”

“And if the Halfling can cook like you say, she can come, too.” A second dwarf interjected, and no one seemed to have an objection.

Nameless arrived and took Badl by the other arm. “Sorry friends,” he said. “I need him first. He can come to Movan Mountain after we are done.” He turned to Badl. “Time to go see Skinny Wilken,” he said, and he became Doctor Mishka as she walked toward a nearby house.

“How did we do?” Those were Wlkn’s first words, once Elleya took a breath. She mothered him, terribly, and told over and over how he saved her life. Apparently, a ghoul busted down the door to escape the carnage, but Wlkn got there first and sent a knife into the creature’s throat. The ghoul slammed Wlkn against the wall before it collapsed, and Elleya proceeded to beat the poor dead ghoul senseless with a frying pan, and no, she did not otherwise know what a frying pan was for.

“I’m not as young as I was, you know.” Wlkn pointed out, though he had no gray hair. “It felt like he tried to eat my youth with magic, if you know what I mean. I think the bite of apple I ate might have been too much for him, though.” Wlkn quieted as Mishka worked. She examined Wlkn and was pleased to find no broken bones, but then she had another duty.

Nameless returned and he told them all that he would be right back. He touched the dead ghoul at his feet, and both vanished to reappear in the woods outside of town. Nameless pulled his sword, and in a swift move, chopped the ghoul’s head off. Sure enough, he heard a moan as he did it. The ghoul had been trying to live off of Wlkn’s youth, and the last thing the village needed would be a ghoul resurrecting itself. Nameless threw the head into the mountains and left the body where it lay. It quickly shriveled and shrank until only a small greenish-purple stain remained. That was the way of ghouls, unless they were eaten. Nameless cleaned his sword, returned it to its place, and reappeared in the room to change immediately with Mishka once again.

Mishka said nothing as she finished examining Wlkn’s wounds, then she finally answered Wlkn’s question as she bandaged Wlkn’s head. “Even with the surprise turned to our side, and the arrows that decimated the ghouls before the fighting started, and an extra surprise of nearly as many dwarfs as there were ghouls, the ghouls managed to take as many with them as we killed. Twenty ghouls fell in the battle, and fifteen men and five dwarfs died. Plus, we have many wounded besides.”

No one spoke. That seemed a terrible toll, and Mishka knew that when Flern came home, she would be in tears because, in a real sense, all of those lives were given to protect and defend her, even if it was not the only reason for fighting. Mishka wiped her own eye and took Laurel and Moriah to check on the others. Badl stayed with Wlkn and Elleya until he needed to go out for a breath of fresh air and a bit of quiet.

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 1 of 3

Flern spent most of the day listening to everything that Diogenes, the Princess, the Storyteller and Doctor Mishka had to offer concerning the defense of the village. One of the first things would be to move the women and children up on to the ridge, a place from which they could escape up into the mountains if necessary. A few of the women stayed, but most, even those who wanted or were willing to stay, understood that their first duty was to the children. Of course, the children wanted to stay too, or at least some of the older boys, but for the most part the village elders said no. They said those boys had to watch out for the women and children in case they had to flee. Andrea stayed with Boritz and Moriah stayed with Badl. It seemed hard to tell exactly what Moriah might be thinking, because she seemed anxious for the fighting to start. That felt curious to many; but in truth, Flern understood that Moriah felt anxious for the fighting to be over, and she did not blame her for that. Wlkn volunteered to help the women and children on the ridge, but he got told, absolutely not. He got handed a bow and a hunting knife, both of which he knew how to use perfectly well, and he got told where to stay, and Elleya stayed right there with him.

Around two o’clock, a troop of twenty dwarfs came marching into the village, armed with axes with sharp copper heads. Flern told them that this was not their affair and she only wanted them to stay if they truly wanted to volunteer. “No pressure,” she said.

The chief dwarf looked at her and his first words were a great relief. “Don’t worry,” he said, and Flern relaxed a little. “We had a run-in with some of these ghoulish creatures a few years ago and everyone here is anxious for get backs.”

“Oh, but revenge is not a good thing.”

“Don’t worry.” The dwarf repeated himself with a fatherly tone that crept into his words. “Now, what’s the plan?”

A couple of hours later, Laurel had a question. “But will it work?” Flern knew the elf was not afraid, young as she looked and in elf terms truly was. Of course, she thought Laurel asked about all of their preparations and she could only shrug in response. “No, I mean do you think we can get in and out without getting caught?”

Flern paused before she shrugged again. “You can’t go invisible or immaterial with ghouls like you can with humans, and a glamour won’t fool them for long, either. You don’t have to come.”

“I’m coming.” Laurel said with the sound that it was already a settled matter. “They are fast, but not elf fast. Once I get moving, they won’t be able to catch me.”

“As for me, I don’t know how fast I might be, or not, but I can go up out of reach and maybe fly back, sort of, I think.”

“But you are the one they are after. What if they catch you?”

Flern shrugged again. “I’m not a red headed boy. Anyway, the village will probably be saved. It won’t be the worst thing.”

“Except for you.” Laurel generally did not like the idea.

Flern suddenly looked serious. “You didn’t tell anyone our plans?” Laurel shook her head and Flern relaxed. “Good.” Flern felt sure if the others knew they would either try to stop them or insist on going with them, or both.

An hour before sundown, Laurel and Flern went out from the village. They ran to the tree line. Laurel got surprised. Flern kept up, but Laurel said nothing as they moved more slowly and carefully through the woods. Laurel made no sound at all, and Flern made virtually no sound. She generally kept herself an inch or so from the ground and pushed herself along through the trees. When they got close, Laurel stopped. She turned up her nose, and then Flern smelled it, too. It smelled like the ghouls had roasted and eaten the two that she had wounded, maybe killed. Anyway, those ghouls were certainly dead now.

Flern put her finger to her lips and floated high into a tree. She caught a branch and pulled herself along, dancing from tree to tree like a squirrel until she was right over the camp, but well hidden in the branches and leaves. The cooking smelled nauseating from that vantage, wafting up as it did from the campfires below. Flern almost threw up, which would have ruined everything. Then again, she imagined the ghouls might not have noticed, or might have thought of it as manna from heaven. That thought did not help her stomach, so she decided to concentrate on her ears instead. She found it was not like in the movies. She heard no plans about how they were going to attack the village, and only knew they were planning an attack because she heard two in the grass talking about how much they were looking forward to eating some living, human flesh and sucking out the souls.

Flern backed out the way she came in, moving from upper tree branch to upper branch like a confused robin. When she reached the place where she left Laurel, she got miffed. Laurel was nowhere to be found, so she waited, but not for long. She heard where Laurel went before she saw her.

“It’s the elf! I knew I smelled something! Get her!” Laurel came running, and Flern stayed right on her heels. They soon left the ghouls well behind, but they did not stop running until they reached the barricade around the village. In fact, Laurel ran right over the barricade, and though Flern had to use a little flying lift, she followed right behind. Then she needed to breathe, and they were deep, heavy breaths. She might be fast, but that still made a long way to run. Laurel did not have nearly the recovery problem.

“Where did you go? Where were you?” People came running up including Boritz and Badl. Flern waved to Laurel because she could not talk yet. Laurel simply made an announcement.

“They are coming.”

“Are you crazy?” Badl started to yell at them, but Flern stopped his mouth when she put a hand on his shoulder.

“I was hoping they would go away. We just wanted to be sure.” Flern gasped, and then she felt better.

Two hours later, after the sun had set and before the moon came up, the village streets looked deserted. Several figures moved through the shadows. Several more figures appeared from another direction, and several more from a third place. They moved slowly toward the center of the village where a big open area, like a village square centered around a spring. The spring soon became a little stream that trickled off in the direction of the river. Flern stood completely still, nearly invisible in the darkness, her cape with the black side out, her hood up, her fingers twitching ever so slightly with nervous tension. She waited as long as she could, but then the ghouls spotted her, having perfect night vision. One shouted. Several shouted. But Flern already started rising like the moon, and she concentrated on letting out every ounce of glow Nanna the Moon gave to Wlvn. She felt like a little moon herself, thirty yards above the village, she bathed the square and the houses beyond in a soft but certain light. The ghouls were revealed. The people could see, and at once, arrows shot out from house windows and cracked doorways all around. Perhaps half the ghouls were killed or wounded in those few moments. Then the people came out with spears, axes, knives and clubs, and they came in threes and fours against each ghoul that still stood beneath the glowing girl. Boritz broke one in the back of the head with his spiked club. He smashed a second in the face, before he picked one up right off the ground and threw it against two more. Those three fell on their backs and became easy targets for the crowding men.

Flern shut her eyes and focused on the glow—float and glow, that was all she had to do. With light, the major advantage of the ghouls got stripped away, and the village had a chance, but screams of death came from every direction, and Flern could not shut her ears. She also could not do anything if a ghoul took a shot at her. She felt vulnerable in her legs, arms and face where she had to be naked to properly glow.

It felt like forever before Flern dared to open her eyes once more. The screaming became subdued, and some people milled about, no doubt wondering what just happened. The blood ran everywhere, and much of it looked like slimy, greenish purple in color, but plenty of it ran red. Flern preferred not to look, so she let her glow diminish as she floated back to the earth. The real moon rose in the late fall sky, and though the sky soon filled with heavy gray clouds moving in from the north, there came significantly more natural light than before. When Flern touched down, she fell to shivering. She had never been so scared in her life, and she could barely keep her head up when Laurel came running up.

“It worked, but barely.” Laurel said.

Reflections Wlvn-10 part 3 of 3

“Lady?” Laurel touched Flern’s arm gently and Flern closed her eyes for a minute. Laurel, Moriah and Badl all had their bows out and strung, and Flern knew there might be something she could do to gain the villagers the time they needed, but she felt reluctant, having so recently messed everything up with Wlvn. All the same, she let go of her place and time and let the Princess come to fill her armor, and the Princess first reached out with her mind and heart to any other little ones that might be within range of the village. She called to them to hurry and come. She knew how to do that much, even if Flern did not. Then she opened her eyes and pointed to some rocks off to the right.

“Badl and Moriah you need to take a position there. Laurel and I will stand in the trees to the left, but first we need some hunters from the village.” She turned and yelled. “I need six men good with the bow, right here. Right now!” Andrea did a double take on the person now wearing the armor.

“Ghouls have a very tough hide. They are hard to pierce. We will have to wait until they are close.” Laurel said. Moriah and the Princess nodded, even as three men and one woman came trotting out from the village. The Princess divided them, took the woman with herself, and instructed them in what they were to do, especially retreat to the village on her signal and without any arguments. Once that was settled, they barely got into position before the ghouls topped the rise. The Princess had a good hope of catching the creatures in a deadly crossfire by surprise; but of course, just then two more men came out from the village, and after some quick pointing, they ran, one to each side. Thus, their positions became completely compromised and the one who arrived by the Princess got told exactly how stupid he had been, and she minced no words. True, the worst of it was in a Greek language from so far in the future it could not be imagined, except by the elf maid, whose ears turned scarlet just to hear some of those words.

The ghouls hesitated when they were still out of range. The Princess had to remind herself how early the days were that she was in. This was around four thousand BC, and war and warfare were not exactly well known, yet. Then again, she had to remember that these ghouls were hunters, and being filled as she was with the spirit of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, she knew these creatures would not be utterly taken in. She breathed some relief when the ghouls started up again, to climb the hill to the village, but at the same time she felt certain that a few of them had slipped to the side to come up on their positions, hopefully affecting their own surprise on the human defenders. The Princess let Badl know in his mind what she thought, and felt him confirm the message, though it seriously risked a headache on her part, and that was something she could not afford.

The ghouls stopped again, short of what they imagined as human bowshot range, and one stepped forward. “We only want the red hair boy. The god said we could have him for the feasting.”

The Princess stepped out as well, their cover already being blown, and after a brief talk with Laurel concerning whatever weak spots these creatures might have. Laurel listed the neck under the chin and under the arms, not places easily reached with an arrow. “No red hair boy here,” she shouted back.

One anxious ghoul stepped forward, bow ready. He let an arrow fly in the Princess’ direction, and the Princess responded in kind. The ghoul’s arrow struck the Princess in the chest but bounced off her armor without any ill effect. The Princess’ arrow struck the speaker in the neck. He had started to laugh, believing himself to be out of range; at least the Princess thought it might be laughter, but at the last minute he tried to duck. Too late. Several ghouls scooted up to drag their fellow ghoul back, and they all backed up several paces.

The Princess stepped forward while the others came out from the trees and rocks and some came from the village barricade to support her. Then Flern insisted, as much to Flern’s surprise as anyone else, and she let the Princess go back to her own time and place while she came home. The ghouls noted the transformation, and the stupid ones were for rushing in, but the smarter ones kept them back. Flern shouted.

“Loki can go jump at himself. He has no say over my life, boy or otherwise. Go eat Loki in your feast for all I care.” She took a couple more steps forward before she stopped. “Go now, and I will let you live.” Several ghouls ducked, expecting the wrath of the god to fall at any moment. Clearly, they did not at all like the way this girl mocked the crooked one, and they did not know what to think about the fact that she seemed to be getting away with it.

One ghoul, a big, ugly brute with true incisor teeth hanging out from his drooling mouth stepped forward and carefully laid his bow down on the ground. He waved a big hand to invite Flern to do the same. Flern did, but she laid her bow close to hand where she could pick it up in a hurry if she needed it. The ghoul took a few steps closer, spread its hands as if to pretend it had no other weapons, and smiled. At least Flern imagined it was supposed to be a friendly smile. She felt wary, but she could not have prepared for the onslaught of force that came from the creature. It came in a blue streak, like lightning, and Flern felt the electrical charge as it tingled in her fingers and toes. After a few second, it finished, and the ghoul balked. Flern looked unmoved. The shield that Frigga had given Wlvn reflected in her enough, so she remained virtually untouched; but the unwarranted attack did accomplish one thing. She got mad.

Flern let herself float up about three feet from the ground which prompted sounds of amazement from ghouls and humans alike, and then she put all of her anger into her own small reflection of the gift from Odin. The big ghoul had no Frigga shield, and even the mere reflection of the Odin gift in her appeared stronger than any magic the ghouls possessed. The big, ugly ghoul did not get reduced to a charred carcass as it would have been in the first second under Wlvn’s attack, but it got electrocuted to the point of smoking. When Flern stopped the attack, the ghoul collapsed like a rag doll, and Flern felt a brief moment of guilt, afraid that she might have killed the creature. Again, ghouls had to rush forward and drag the big ghoul back beside the one with the arrow in its neck.

Flern let herself return to earth and shouted again. “Second and final warning. Go home and give up this foolish idea, and I will let you live.” Some ghouls looked ready to do that very thing, if she read their faces correctly, but she felt concerned that the others might talk them out of it. They picked up their wounded and trotted back down the hill to disappear into the woods. That did not mean they were gone.

Flern picked up her bow even as Badl, Laurel and Moriah caught up with her.

“That was magnificent!” Moriah praised her and Laurel felt the same, but Flern minced no words.

“They will wait until dark and attack when they think we are sleeping.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Badl confirmed.

When they walked up to the barricade and the village, there was not the celebration Flern expected. Boritz provided the explanation.

“I told the men here to set a small watch and rest up during the day. I think we are going to be very busy tonight.”

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MONDAY

It is a busy night, and for the Valkyrie not the least, but then the ghouls are not the only trick Loki has up his sleeve.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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Reflections Wlvn-10 part 2 of 3

Flern pulled her cloak tight against the cold. They sheltered against the rocks, with fir trees to block the worst of the wind. The fire stayed good and high because people got up in the night to add a log or two. Around four or five in the morning, Flern heard some rustling in the nearby leaves. She sat up and saw that Boritz came awake as well. Moriah started coming around. Flern heard it again after a minute. She had heard Jaccar warriors in the bushes, but this sounded nothing like that. This sounded more like something on the prowl, and it did not care who might be listening. Flern’s first thought was night creatures, but she quickly rejected that idea, knowing that the night creatures would not stop to rustle the leaves. Her second thought was ghouls, or whatever might have set that trap, but Laurel dissuaded her from thinking that way.

“Not ghouls,” she whispered, but it came clear as a bell in Flern’s mind. “They would be on us and already building the fire for the feast.”

“That’s where I left the remains of our supper.” Moriah said, but she spoke a bit too loud, and the rustling leaves stopped all at once.

“Bear.” Boritz whispered, and then “Bear!” He said it again with some volume as the creature came right into the camp and stood up. It looked like a big one, too. It growled as Moriah screamed, followed by screams from Flern, Andrea, Elleya and Wlkn. Badl threw a log on the nearly dead fire and waved his hands over the top with a bit of dwarf know-how, to bring the fire to new and roaring flames. Boritz screamed as well, but directed it at the beast, and surprisingly it came out something like, “Shoo! Go away!” This bear, one that obviously liked the taste of meat over the herbs and roots most bears ate, looked too startled by all the commotion and screaming to know what to do. To be honest, it struck out of fear. Flern got knocked back by one sweep of a tremendous paw, and she only got saved from death by her armor. Boritz waved his weapon at the beast, still hoping to drive the creature off without having a battle.

“Horses!” Flern yelled, and Wlkn, Badl and Moriah went quickly to try and calm the horses while Andrea and Elleya continued to scream. The bear turned on Boritz as Flern drew her sword with a speed difficult for a human eye to follow. She struck the beast hard on the top of its head, stung it with the flat of her sword, and she let herself shoot up out of reach as the bear turned around. When it looked up at her, she looked down at it and she growled “Grrr!” Boritz threw his hands up and hollered at the same time, and at last, the bear chose discretion over valor. It howled, fell to all fours, and scamper away as quickly as it could.

Flern came back to earth with Boritz’s words. “You are full of surprises, Red.”

“My ribs hurt.” That was all she could say, and she rubbed them a little as Badl came rushing up, to interrupt them all.

“Laurel has heard them, and Moriah confirms, so they can’t be too far away. No time for breakfast. Ghouls on the horizon.” He waved his hands over the fire again and the flames died instantly to their former red ash state. Then he and Boritz peed on it to finish it while Flern looked away. She stepped away from the smell of bear and whistled. Thred came right up. She removed his elf made hobble and then helped Andrea with hers since Andrea still shook from the bear.

“Up,” she said, and added, “Boritz!”

“But in the dark, on the cold and wet and ice it will not be safe.” Wlkn helped Elleya mount his steed.

Flern just let herself start to glow, and she turned in the general direction and let her eyes shoot moonlight ahead, like two headlights on a big rig. “Laurel. You need to be with me to lead. Everyone else, single file and follow my light. Laurel brought Brmr’s horse up without hesitation. They all understood that Badl and Boritz probably knew the territory and the ford better in this place than Laurel, but the elf maid was still new at riding and Flern felt she needed to be where she could be watched.

They trotted at best, not daring to ride full out like they wanted, even with Flern’s light. In this way, they soon came down to the Swr River and found it iced in places.

“Cold going.” Flern warned the others as she and Laurel entered the frigid water. Andrea shrieked when the cold and wet hit her legs. Wlkn shivered himself half to death. Only Elleya appeared unaffected by the cold, but then she kept busy saying that her people don’t swim where the ice runs thick in the distant north and the more distant south. They mostly stayed in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean, though some had gone beyond the pillars to the islands in the North Sea. They were her North Sea cousins; she said, when Badl shouted back.

“Tell her to clam up. There is no reason to tell the ghouls our exact location and there won’t be any talking them to death.”

“Clam up.” Elleya said. “What a lovely expression…” Wlkn eventually managed to quiet her.

Flern kept the glow going for nearly an hour, not that the ghouls could not find them by the light, but they needed it, or they certainly would have ridden into trouble, and likely would have crippled a horse or two. After that time, the sun began to rise, and Andrea suggested they stop to catch their breath. Flern completely agreed. She felt exhausted and terribly drained. She had used flight and speed and strength, all gifts that took something out of her to activate, and then all that moonlight became almost too much; but Badl insisted.

“We must get to the village before they catch us. When they are this close, they won’t stop just because the sun comes up. These are creatures of the darkness as I told you, but they are not night creatures to be afraid of the sun.

They rode on, and Flern hung on to Thred, and only thanked God when it became bright enough to ride more swiftly. Of course, she made the mistake at one point of looking back. She saw them, and it looked to her like more than ten. They were cruel looking, greenish, covered in long black hair, teeth like a saber-tooth in the front. “Or a vampire.” She said to herself.

“No!” Laurel heard and looked back. The ghouls were at the top of the hill, a good half-hour behind. “They are just ordinary ghouls.”

“But I thought you said around ten.” Flern protested.

“Loki.” Badl spoke up from behind, and of course that had to be it.

The group raised the alarm in town as soon as they arrived, but the village people were not quick to do anything until they saw what approached from the valley floor; then they hardly had enough time to drag out every wagon they could find to build a barricade.

Reflections Wlvn-10 part 1 of 3

Boritz turned out to be quite good with the cutter-club he carried around. It looked like an auguar thigh bone or some similar big bone, and it had stones driven through the head like spikes, so it looked altogether like a medieval mace. Flern did very well on her second time around. She credited it to her subconscious mind working on the problems while she worried about other things. To be sure, she felt more prepared, mentally, for this go around, and Boritz did not catch her, even with his fancy moves. What struck her, though, was not how well she did but how strong Boritz was. He could go toe to toe with her and match her Thor enhanced strength. That got her to thinking. Maybe Boritz could be convinced to take on the Titan.

“So how did you get to be so strong?” she asked, as she rode beside him and Andrea once they started out again.

Boritz shrugged. “I come by it natural,” he said. “I guess it is in my blood. I was not lying when I said that Perun was my grandfather.” He smiled, but Flern’s countenance fell. Boritz would not do. She understood that much. The gods, for some reason, could not face the Titan. They had to ask Wlvn to do it. Thus, she had to assume that anyone tainted by the blood of the gods would not do. Of course, she just guessed, and she said so out loud.

“It would be nice to know what was going on.”

“We are going over the mountains, yes?” Boritz did not understand her words.

“Yes.” She answered, and with one more look behind, she scooted up front to ride beside Laurel.

Night came quickly, the sun setting as it did behind the mountains. “I believe we have come far enough so the night creatures won’t catch us, but the Swr River is below here, and it is a couple of hours yet to the village,” Badl reported.

“But have we come far enough so whatever set those traps won’t catch us?” Wlkn had to ask.

“Maybe not.” Badl started to speak, but Laurel interrupted.

“But they may not know about horses and riders, exactly. They might just think a herd of horses came this way and whatever footprints that we left around the trap simply vanished, like maybe we flew away.”

“I would not put it past Loki to use ghouls for his own purposes.” Badl got his word in.

“So, what are ghouls?” Andrea asked. They were all wondering and Laurel and Badl looked at each other before they talked, as if there might be some unspoken communication regarding secrets to be kept and things that could be revealed. Badl finally spoke.

“They are related to the Djin, mighty spirits of the desert, full of magic, mostly evil. My father came originally from the land between the Tigris and Euphrates where the Djin congregate.”

“Bain.” Flern named Badl’s father and Badl nodded.

“My father Bain was an imp, but our god turned him into one of the first of the true, common gnomes. After his wife Pinky died tragically, he migrated north and vowed to remain single for the rest of his days; but shortly our god, who was a goddess then, one Faya by name, a name that meant Beauty, and I understand she truly was. A red head…” Bain paused to look at Flern. “She got hold of him and changed his mind. Faya lived on the Were plateau, by the way, and on the other side of the mountains to boot, and my father lived near her. Well, eventually he found a dwarf woman, and they married so to speak, and, well, here I am. I guess that makes me sort of a half and half myself. Half gnome and half dwarf you might say.” Badl looked at Moriah by the end of his speech and she looked right back at him with the points of her ears turning ever so slightly red.

“I was named Beauty and lived on the Were plateau? I thought the Were did not let anyone in their neighborhood.” Flern sounded stumped.

“Yes, well…” Badl turned to speak to her. “I know the law. If you don’t remember Faya for yourself, I’m not supposed to speak about it.”

Andrea snapped her fingers to get everyone’s attention back. “But what about the ghouls?”

Laurel took up the telling at that point, after assuring Badl with her look that he indeed said too much. “Ghouls like to feast on raw flesh, and human flesh is definitely on the menu. They have attacked elves and dwarfs at times, and sometimes take goblins and imps as slaves, though I don’t suppose they get very far with the ogres and trolls. Anyway, they are big, like Boritz in size, and they are tough and terribly strong, and they have retained some magic from the days with their desert cousins, and honestly, if they were more organized, they would be a terrible menace to the whole world. There are only two things that are to our advantage.”

“Eh?” Wlkn got on the edge of his seat.

“First, they only hunt in small groups, normally groups of ten, so if we are being followed, there probably are not more than ten of them or so, and some of those may be young. And second, the reason they travel in small groups is because otherwise the temptation to eat each other is too strong. We say in the deep woods, when a ghoul visits a ghoul, on the first day he is company, on the second he is an annoyance, and on the third he is supper. That is what my people say.”

“A comfort,” Wlkn said, and he made the mistake of turning toward Elleya who could not resist opening up about all sorts of things, including, at one point, about how Badl and Moriah ought to get married, which embarrassed them both. Elleya ran out of steam somewhere between sharks and barracuda. After all that talk about night creatures and ghouls, all Elleya could think of was things with teeth.

Andrea spoke as soon as Elleya took a breath. “Well, with that said, I guess we better try to get some sleep.”

“If anyone can sleep in this cold,” Wlkn added, with a yawn.

“We could snuggle. I could keep you warm,” Elleya suggested, and Wlkn did not protest.

“Me too.” Boritz yawned. He sat next to Andrea, and everyone knew he meant that he felt tired and ready to sleep too, but Andrea could not resist a response.

“You keep your hands to yourself, mister,” she said. She wagged her little finger in the big man’s face and poked him once in the chest.

Boritz looked down at his knees. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said, with just the right bit of humility. Flern thought that it had not been a day and a half and Andrea already had the poor man whipped.

Reflections Wlvn-9 part 3 of 3

Just before dawn, Flern awoke to the sound of a soft honk and the poking of a beak. She tried to brush it off but sat up straight and quick when she realized it was not a dream. The swan quickly waddled away, and it seemed a very pronounced waddle, Flern thought. Flern stood and glanced at the other sleepers. Laurel had gotten up and gone off somewhere, and Moriah sat up, but the others were still out for the night. Flern had to squint to see the swan in the gray light, but she felt sure the bird wanted to be followed, and she had no qualms about doing so. This swan, assuming the same swan all along, had saved Wlvn’s life more than once.

“I’ll be back.” Flern told Moriah, even as Laurel trotted up with a rabbit in her hands.

“Where is she going?” Laurel asked. Moriah shrugged, and they went about waking the others.

Flern made no effort to hide her trail, not that she knew how to do that, so she knew the others would not be far behind; but in the meantime, she could not resist seeing what the swan wanted to show her. She found it, even as the light turned from gray to misty white. A unicorn had gotten trapped in a man-made, or something-made trap, and struggled to get free. Flern looked around for the trapper, but no one could be seen, and she assumed that the swan had flown off as well.

“Pretty baby.” Flern could not help calling the unicorn by that name, though she was not so foolish as to run to it. The beast looked like it could be fierce if it wanted to be, and the horn looked like it could be deadly. “I can help if you let me.” Flern said, not knowing if the unicorn could understand her. “I can cut the vines and set you free if you like.” She pulled her long knife slowly and showed it to the beast. The unicorn gave no indication that it understood a word Flern said, but after sniffing at the blade from a distance, it got to its knees and then fell to its side so its trapped foot remained on top. “Poor baby.” Flern repeated herself. “Everything will be all right.” She inched forward slowly and carefully, and when she reached the beast, she heard the others gather behind her and hoped they would be wise enough to keep their distance.

Flern cut the vine-rope quickly and cleanly where it stretched taught, some inches from the unicorn’s hoof. Then she set down her blade and slipped the loop off the hoof itself. The unicorn brought up its head and Flern heard at least one gasp behind her, but the unicorn only nudged her and was very careful about the horn. Flern sighed and loved this beast for all the purity and love she felt emanating from the creature. She could not help kissing the unicorn on the neck, and she felt such peace.

“You are free now,” Flern said. “You can go but be careful.” Flern scooted back and the unicorn appeared to understand. It got to its feet, and with one more loving look in Flern’s direction, it raced off to disappear in the bushes.

“Well, I never,” Wlkn said. Elleya cried for joy at having seen the beast, and Moriah seemed inclined to join her. Laurel had something to say.

“Not just a beast as it appears. Unicorns are greater spirits of all things pure and good.  Only children and a virgin with the purest heart can dare to approach.” Andrea stepped up and put her arms around Flern for a hug but stared all the time at the bushes where the unicorn disappeared.

“Definitely not made by human hands.” Boritz and Badl examined the trap.

“And not a little one trap either. My guess is ghoul, or some other creatures of the darkness.” He looked all around, and Boritz looked with him, and he looked worried. “We should probably be safe in the daylight, but I would not mind reaching the village by dark, even if it means crossing two rivers. As if on cue, everyone lifted their heads at once as they heard the sound of a baby crying in the distance.

“Damn!” Wlkn swore.

“What is that?” Andrea asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Badl answered.

Breakfast became a hurried affair, and as they were right at the Prt River ford, they soon put that water between them and the creatures. Badl pointed out that while the river did not look too wide at that point, it remained deep enough to come up to the horse’s necks and that should probably be too deep for the night creatures to cross, easily. Flern did not feel assured by the word probably.

On the other side of the Prt, between there and the river Swr, the forest changed to include more firs and pines among the deciduous trees. Snow had fallen here as well, as they wound along and around the hills that snuggled up close to the mountains. Flern rode in the middle when the horses had to string out in single file. It became hard to look back around Boritz, but she kept looking back anyway. She hoped, since there were no more iced over swampy areas between the rivers, maybe the ghouls, or whatever they were, would not be interested in the terrain.

“No, Lady. If it is ghouls or worse, they are probably like the night creatures. They will cross any terrain to get what they are after and then go home when dinner is done.”

Flern looked back again. The Storyteller suggested all sorts of possible nasties including orcs and goblins taken straight from Tolkien. That frightened her for a minute until she realized that goblins were of the elf class. They were dark elves, as the gods of Aesgard called them, and thus they were her responsibility. For a while, she kept hoping that the traps were set by trolls, but Badl assured her that there were not any trolls locally who were smart enough to do something like that. So Flern looked back. She could not help it, and she patted Thred’s neck every now and then and talked softly to the horse. “If the spookies come after us, you will ride like the wind, won’t you?” she asked, and Thred appeared to nod his head. That made her want to hug the horse, or maybe hold on for dear life when the time came.

Lunch did not take long. Flern had to touch her sword and ask Badl about practicing, but Badl said they had no time for that, as she suspected. She figured it got her brownie points so later she could say she offered, without really having to practice. Unfortunately, Boritz said he could help teach her, and then she got trapped. She sighed. She knew she had to learn for the sake of her village back home, but at the moment she did not really want to learn for fear she would be expected to face the Titan.

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MONDAY

Ghouls find them, but they are looking for the red headed boy… Happy Reading

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Reflections Wlvn-9 part 2 of 3

Neither Wlkn nor Badl moved, and Badl rather yawned.

“Well?” the man asked.

“Oh, are you talking to me?” Badl asked. “I thought you were talking to the man. There is only one at present.”

“Eh?”

Wlkn shook his head. “I’ve lived my whole life under the gaze of the Titan. Now, there is a giant! What can a mortal man do worse than that?”

The big man grumbled.

“Hello. Do you have a name? My name is Elleya.” Of course, she had to speak up.

“What brings you our way?” Flern asked, as some suspicion crept into her voice.

“Hold on a minute, Red.” The man said. He seemed to be examining them closely. “It was the God of Light who sent me. He said I should meet you in the way. He said one dwarf, one halfling, one elf, one mermaid.” He counted his fingers as he pointed.

“I’m the mermaid.” Elleya said with glee.

“Wait! One elf, one mermaid, one old man, one lady, and one red headed man who I was to help reach the Great River beyond the mountains.” He paused and this time everyone waited in silence. “So are you them? Where is the old man and the red-headed man?” He stepped a little closer to Andrea and removed his hat altogether. “I see the wee spirits and the half-one, and the perfect lady.” He tried his best grin. “The god was right about that. But where are the others?”

“I’m the old man.” Wlkn spoke up. “I’m fifty and a bit, just older than the elf maid.”

“He had a run-in with Ydunna and one of her golden apples.” Badl said by way of explanation.

“And I’m the red-haired fellow?” Flern raised her hand.

The man looked again. “Sorry Red, but I can see you are definitely not a man. Why, you are almost as lovely as your lady friend here.”

“Andrea.” Andrea gave her name, though it seemed hard to read her expression.

“Boritz.” The big man readily gave his name in return.

“My name is Flern.” Flern tried to gain the man’s attention again. “And it is kind of complicated, but for now you have to pretend I am the red-headed man. Gods willing, he will come back here soon, and I can go home.”

There came a moment before the man shook himself free from staring at Andrea. “No. The god said a red headed man. Now, I don’t think the gods can be mistaken, and especially about something like that.” His eyes went back to Andrea and his smile returned as well.

Flern shook her head and tried to explain. “The gods don’t have my lifeline so what I do is a mystery to them. I am sure Wlvn was here when Vry talked to you; but Vry had no idea I would double trade and screw everything up.”

“Hush. Not so.” The others tried to comfort Flern, and she tried hard to hear them.

Boritz did not pay the least attention, staring as he did at Andrea. “Very clever, by the way, riding on the backs of your supper.”

“These horses are not for eating!” Wlkn spoke right up.

“I thought that very thing at first,” Badl admitted. “But I have since learned that these horses are good for something more than bacon, maybe.”

“Stop. You are making my mouth water,” Boritz said.

Flern dismounted.

“My Moriah is a good cook, too,” Badl added. Moriah blushed.

“Your Moriah?” Andrea and Laurel spoke together.

“Ours.” Badl quickly corrected himself. “Our Moriah.”

“Do you know the way over the mountains?” Flern interrupted Boritz and stood between him and Andrea to be sure she had the man’s attention, not that he could not look right over her head. Boritz nodded. “And across the plateau and over the mountains on the other side?” Flern finished.

Boritz got serious for a minute. “The Were plateau is not for crossing. But I know some ways to go,” he said. “I’ve been all the way to the Great River several times.”

“Good.” Flern steeled herself and gave it her best shot. She grabbed Boritz the giant by his coat and lifted him right off his feet, to the surprise of everyone, not the least herself. She had to toss him a little to get him up on the horse but managed to set him behind Andrea. “I can’t just lay hands on like Wlvn, but you need to ride behind Andrea.” Andrea gave Flern a dirty look, but Flern knew that the god of light, Vry, was the twin brother of Vrya, the goddess of love, and she knew Vrya had a hand in Andrea’s arrival, so she simply added two and two together. She felt certain that Boritz had to be the one that Aphrodite knew would make Andrea happy. Flern remembered what Wlvn got told, that no one in the Greco-Roman world would make the girl happy. “And Elleya. Njord gave you to Wlvn?” Elleya did not understand the sudden question, but Wlkn answered.

“Yes, that’s right.”

Flern nodded. Njord was Vrya and Vry’s father. And Tyr sent Badl, and Tyr would one day be Vrya’s husband and father of Nameless, though Flern was not sure if Tyr or Vrya realized that yet. In any case, they respected each other and were cooperative and in agreement on most things, so where Thor, Njord and Baldur were giving women to tempt Wlvn—to be sure he faced the Titan—Vrya, Vry and Tyr were making sure those women got attached to someone else.

They made an early camp that evening, and Laurel went out with Moriah to hunt. Badl and Flern gathered what they could, while the other two couples sat around swapping stories. That evening when the sun set, Boritz lay down with Badl and Wlkn, though Elleya had to also lie beside her Wilken. That left the four girls to commiserate. It turned cold that night, so they huddled by the fire for warmth. Flern had to ask.

“So, what do you think of Boritz?” She looked straight at Andrea who had ridden with him all afternoon. Laurel and Moriah also looked at her, but their interest seemed like mere curiosity.

“I think he is the biggest, most arrogant, self-interested, and self-centered braggart on two feet.” Andrea answered. Laurel and Moriah looked shocked and felt sorry for Andrea, but Flern knew better.

“Really?” Flern said. “Do you like him that much?”

Andrea tried to keep a straight face, but she could not help the corners of her mouth or keep them from lifting up just a little. “Yes,” she said, and Flern said no more about it.

A short while later, Flern lifted her head from the conversation. She felt afraid that her ears were hearing the wail of a baby, but Laurel set her straight. “It is the swan’s song,” and Flern sighed in relief

“I thought swans were day creatures,” Moriah said, and Laurel shrugged. They all listened for a bit and Flern thought she heard something mournful in the song that maybe Wlvn never heard. It sounded very sad to her ears, though she could not imagine why.

Later still, when Flern finally got to sleep, she dreamed about the swan, and it seemed a lovely dream, but then she had a nightmare about the night creatures and felt fortunate that she did not start screaming in her sleep.

Reflections Wlvn-9 part 1 of 3

After a moment of shocked silence, everyone laughed a thank God no one got hurt kind of laugh. Badl’s branch was gone, but Badl stayed good about it. They had plenty of fallen lumber around to make another club. Flern called to her sword and expected it to vacate the tree and fly back to her hand. Like Thor’s hammer, the sword and long knife of the Kairos always returned to the hand when called. But this time, though the sword wiggled, it stayed stuck.

“You must have really done something,” Laurel decided, and looked big eyed at her lady. Flern just frowned a little and stepped up to the tree. She grabbed the hilt of the sword and pulled. It came out a few inches, but then got pulled in again, deeper than before.

“That’s odd,” Badl said

“Someone is fighting you,” Moriah added

“Maybe the Giant?” Elleya suggested.

Wlkn swallowed. “Or maybe the god with the Titan.”

“Loki?” Flern shook her head. When it came to something serious, Loki did not play games.

“Maybe the tree.” Laurel whispered her suspicions and on the mention of it, Badl readily agreed, and Moriah agreed with him, though she was honestly just being agreeable.

“Maybe it’s the tree,” Badl said.

“Oh.” Flern had not considered that.

“Don’t be silly,” Andrea said. “Trees aren’t alive, at least not like that.” And Wlkn and Elleya were inclined to side with her, so the group appeared to be evenly divided. Flern took a step back.

“My apologies Mister Oak,” she said. “This was not intentional.  I deeply regret if I caused you any injury.” She paused, and after a time of silence, there came a response.

“I should think an apology is the least you could do. You nearly cut one of my main arteries.”

“I am sorry. I am just a beginner,” Flern said, and she looked sad to think she may have really hurt something.

“You have obviously not made a very good beginning,” the tree said.

“Yes, but that is what I keep trying to tell everyone. I can’t do this. I don’t have it in me to hurt anyone or see them hurt.” Flern found a few tears. Silence followed for another minute before the tree spoke again.

“There, there. No real harm done.” The Dryad came out from within the tree. He stood about eight feet tall and still looked like a tree, but in a human form, with a bark covered but relatively human face. He held the sword in his hands. “Here. Clearly you need practice. That is all it should take.” He handed back the sword and Flern immediately put it away. “I tell my acorns all the time that you must plant your roots deep if you wish to grow tall and strong.”

“Thank you, sir.” Flern wiped her nose on her sleeve. “You are very kind.”

“Think nothing of it,” the tree said, and thus began an hour of company that no one expected. It became a most pleasant lunch, so much so that Andrea, of all people, asked the tree if he would like to travel with them.

“No.” The tree responded honestly. “I thank you for the invitation, but the forest is where I am rooted and where I will stay.” After that, they said goodbye and moved along, and Flern thought of herself as a lucky girl to have gotten out of sword practice that whole time.

In the afternoon, Laurel moved up to ride beside Badl and Moriah. Flern suspected that Laurel began to realize that Moriah might really be a very nice person, but on the surface, she needed to be in front because Badl sometimes seemed unsure about the way. This hill country, the foothills of the mountains, had real hills that were tall enough, so they had to wind their way around and through them, rather than going over them. The ice and snow covered the tops.

After an hour, they began to move away from the mountains, and when Wlkn asked, he got told that the hills became very rocky ahead and full of earth slides and narrow ledges that would be very hard for the horses. They needed to go around that part to reach the Prt River, and then after that came the River Swr, and one village they could not avoid because it lay at the foot of the mountain pass.

Andrea moved up that afternoon to ride beside Flern, and they got to know each other a little better. Andrea did not appear to mind Flern as she had minded Wlvn.

“Of course, I am still not going to marry you,” Andrea said with a grin. “I don’t go that way.”

“Me neither,” Flern said. “That’s just what Ydunna said.”

“The goddess?” Andrea’s eyes got big at the thought, but she started adjusting in her mind to this new land and a whole new set of gods and goddesses, and she probably did not even realize it. Flern just nodded, and Andrea let out a little of that healthy, but nervous laughter. “What is it with you? Every time I turn around you are talking with the gods, cavorting with elves and dwarfs, and them bowing to you like you are some sort of goddess yourself, you are flying and tossing men through the air like they are just little pebbles or something. It is always something; but then I just spent an hour talking to a very nice tree, so what do I know?”

“But that wasn’t me, mostly,” Flern said. “I just got here.”

“Wlvn the man or Flern the woman, it is still just you, and I am not just saying that because you look like him. You can change to a hundred different people, change your appearance and everything, and it will still just be you, the same you as it has been all along.”

That was not entirely true. She was not just the same person living different lives like photocopies of herself. She felt more like different persons in time, with different personalities and upbringings and everything. Clearly, she might be the same consciousness, the same spirit if you will, and maybe she shared the same basic genetic code, the nature part of her seemed nearly identical, outside of some cosmetic changes, and the male-female thing of course, but the nurture part, all of her upbringing, her family, her culture, language and everything was always different, and sometimes radically different. Still, it felt insightful on the part of Andrea, and Flern told her so.

Suddenly, Badl stopped. Moriah looked back while they all stopped. Laurel put her hand down toward her bow, but she did not draw it up. Flern and Andrea heard the distant male voice grow louder as the man came closer.

“Almighty Perun was my grandfather, the god of all the righteous. Vashti the spring was my grandmother who fills the world with life and love. My father was the mighty man whose voice made the mountains tremble, and my mother is the sun, the moon and the stars. Her paps are the great hills of Mara on which I suck my daily milk. And I am the meanest, biggest, strongest man the world has ever seen. I am so big I can stand on the hills and piss into the sea. I turn the rivers yellow with my stream. I am so tall I can sit on the mountain and dangle my feet in the deepest valley. I am so strong I can wrestle the bear and win three out of three falls. I rip the sapling from its roots for my toothpick, and I grab the wild boar for my hairbrush. Women tremble and throw themselves at my feet. Men tremble and get out of my way.” The man came out from the trees, and he certainly looked tall, being well over six feet tall by Flern’s estimate, and broad, though it appeared hard to tell how broad he actually might be given the bear skin coat he wore against the cold. “And here I am, little people, to be your guide through the mountains and beyond. Sweet ladies.” He tipped his beaver hat. “And you men, are you not afraid to cast your eyes on my greatness?”

Reflections Wlvn-8 part 3 of 3

Once they got away from the elf camp, they settled into a morning lineup where Badl and Moriah rode out front on Number Two followed by Flern and Laurel side by side. Andrea came behind, next to or in front of Wlkn and Elleya who generally brought up the rear when they rode single file. Laurel had been given Brmr’s gentle mare, so Elleya had to double up with Wlkn which was all she wanted since Moriah started riding with Badl. Laurel said she felt uncertain about riding at first, but she sat the horse well and quickly got the hang of it.

“I’m sorry. I can’t give you a knowledge of horses just by laying my hands on your head like Wlvn can,” Flern apologized. “I only reflect his gifts, and in a far lesser degree, I think.”

“Don’t apologize,” Laurel responded. “Since the day Wlvn broke the ice with his horses, all of the little ones have gotten the idea that some of these beasts may have uses we never before imagined.”

“So, you have horses in your camp? I did not see any.”

“No, Lady Flern.” Laurel confessed before her face filled with a wild grin. “But one day I became overwhelmed with a spirit of adventure, and I managed to ride on a wild one. It was scary, but fun.”

Flern nodded. She felt surprised that Laurel did not break her neck doing a crazy thing like that; but then she knew that all of the little ones, and some gnomes especially, had a natural affinity for the beasts which the little ones themselves were just beginning to learn about and explore. Flern supposed the wild horse was not nearly as wild with Laurel as it would have been with a human rider.

By lunchtime, Flern liked this elf very much. Laurel seemed a sweet girl, young as she looked, and Flern hoped they could be friends. She thought about it. This was not the result of the love, care, and sometimes concern she had for all of the little ones, as goddess of the little ones; this felt like something personal. Flern felt that person to person they could be close, even if she remained technically Laurel’s goddess. Now, if only she could figure out a way to get Laurel to stop calling her Lady Flern or my Lady.

When they stopped for lunch, Badl nudged Flern while the meat cooked. Flern looked up to find a branch in the gnome’s hand, one cleaned of all the little twigs, so it looked something like a long club. “Do you know anything about those weapons you are carrying?” Badl asked.

“A little.” Flern hedged. “I used to make the girls practice with the bow. Thrud was terrible.” She laughed at her memory. “But for the sword and knife, I only learned about them a little when you laid hands on Wlvn that one time. The gift of Tyr. Remember?”

“I remember.” Badl nodded. “You said as well as being Wlvn’s reflection in female form, you reflected his gifts a bit, so I’m thinking you know more than you are telling, but I was also thinking that Wlvn started giving himself lessons. Knowing how to do something and being able to do it are two different things.”

“They are,” Flern confirmed.

“But you have the weapons and know about how you are supposed to use them. I figure all you need is to practice some before we get to lands completely unknown. Some of us here may have to depend on you to protect them.”

“No.” Flern protested and sat up straight. “That’s not fair. You said I would have to kill the Titan. You did not say anything about having to defend this whole crew.”

“There is that, too. The Titan, I mean,” Badl said, with a wry smile. “I am sure it will be good to know something about these things when you face the monster.”

“Grrr.” Flern felt trapped again. “I am trying not to think about that.”

“Come now. A little practice won’t hurt.” Badl nudged her with his branch.

Flern put her hand to her shoulder where he bumped her. “I can’t. The sword is too heavy.” She made excuses and did not know why. She always wanted to get her hands on a real sword.

“Come now. No excuses.” He tapped her lightly on the head.

“Ouch. Cut that out,” she said.

He tapped her thigh a little harder. “Not until you at least try.” He poked her shoulder again.

“Grrr!” Flern got up and pulled out her sword as Badl backed up. She did not really get mad, and it became evident when she expressed amazement rather than anger at holding the sword of the elves in her hand. It seemed much lighter than she remembered. It felt very much lighter, and then she remembered why. She reflected the strength that Thor gave to Wlvn, and she thought, maybe she could do this after all.

Badl came at her with three quick strikes: left, right, left. Flern easily knocked away the branch all three times. It seemed easy since knowing what to do, and being young and flexible, and apparently strong, made the actions simple. But then Badl came at her with a more complicated move, and when she thought his branch would be one place, it ended up somewhere else and it tapped her lightly on the head.

“Ouch,” Flern said, and she put her hand to her head. “I wonder if my little ones might be willing to make me a helmet?”

“More than likely,” Badl said, and he came at her again, thinking to knock her this time in the knees, but Flern shot up into the air, higher than the dwarf and his branch could reach, and she floated there for a minute, razzing the poor gnome.

“Ha, ha! Missed me! Nyah-nyah.” She came back down.

Badl frowned and came again with the same move he used before. Again, he knocked her on the head, like she had not learned anything, and at once Flern felt two things. First, she realized that she would never be as skilled as the Princess or Diogenes. Certainly, not Diogenes. They trained day in and day out for years, until this kind of thing came automatically. The Princess would have disarmed the gnome on the first pass, and knocked him on the head, too. The other thing, she felt embarrassed, and that made her angry. Wlkn and Badl did not help.

“He got you again that time,” Wlkn pointed out the obvious.

“Hush,” Moriah spoke from the cooking fire. “I would like to see you try.”

“Well, she is only a human female after all, you know,” Badl said.

Flern got angry and thought to chop that stupid branch in two. She needed a good, level swing with plenty of follow through. She temporarily forgot about the strength from Thor, and she also forgot about the gift of Baldur. That was speed, and while it did not become superhuman speed in her as in Wlvn, she later found out that she could keep up with Laurel in a foot race and being able to run with an elf was really saying something. In this case, the sword swung much faster and harder than Flern intended, and she spun all of the way around three times before the sword slipped completely out of her hand. It just missed Andrea. It might have clipped her if she was taller. It sunk a good six inches into a big old oak tree where the tree looked covered with ice.

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MONDAY

There are creatures to meet along the path and at least one more to join them on their journey.  Until then, Happy Reading.

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